Savon de Marseille is a traditional hard soap made from vegetable oils that has been produced around Marseille, France, for about 600 years. The first documented soapmaker was recorded there in about 1370. By 1688, Louis XIV introduced regulations in the Edict of Colbert limiting the use of the name “Savon de Marseille” to olive oil based soaps. The law has since been amended to allow other vegetable oils to be used.
By 1913 production had reached 180,000 tons, and in 1924 there were 132 soapmaking companies in the Marseille and Salon-de-Provence areas combined.
Traditionally, the soap is made by mixing water, olive oil, and the lye (sodium hydroxide) together in a large cauldron (usually making about 8 tons). This mixture is then heated for several days, stirring constantly. Included in the process is to wash the soap paste with salt water from the Mediterranean Sea. This ensures the soap free of caustic soda or “Extra Pur“. The mixture is allowed to sit until ready, then poured into a mold and allowed to set slightly. While still soft it is cut into bars, stamped, and left to completely harden. The cooling takes advantage of Mistral wind from the Mediterranean sea. The whole process can take up to a month.
In spite of other soap producers with chemical additives and modern machines, until today Savon de Marseille is arguably the de-facto best soap in the world. It’s recommended by many dermatologists as a hypo-allergic soap.